Decolonizing Education


Cultural and ecological reconciliation

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … eco-cultural legacies
  • Knowing is … embodying eco-cultural traditions
  • Learner is … a citizen
  • Learning is … reclaiming cultural traditions
  • Teaching is … participation in cultural reclamation




Decolonizing Education is a movement to rethink formal education and rebuild schools, oriented on commitments to identify and interrupt the cultural legacy of European colonialism, especially with regard to imposed worldviews and privileged knowledge. Grounding constructs and associated discourses include:

  • Anticolonialism – an umbrella notion used to refer to any sentiment or action against a colonialist power. Anticolonialist movements are typically motivated by desires for self-determination, and they are often infused with themes of justice, equality, anti-racism, and anti-oppression.
  • Colonial Discourse Theory (Frantz Fanon, 1950s) – a perspective concerned with the critical interrogation of narratives and rationales that have arisen around historical acts of colonialism and imperialism, with particular attention given to how such discourse is used to legitimate and maintain power dynamics
  • Decolonization (Decoloniality; Decolonial Theory) – the undoing of colonialism, usually with a major emphasis on excavating, interrogating, and undermining colonialist sensibilities that might have displaced or erased prior ways of knowing and being
  • Postcolonialism – a more general term that is used to refer to the historical period after European expansionism, political movements against colonialism (see Anticolonialism), and/or an intellectual project to interrupt imported and imposed habits of thinking (see Decolonization)
  • Settler Colonial Education – educational systems established by settler colonial societies in territories they have colonized. Typically, the phrase is used to foreground concerns with the imposition of colonialist values, assimilationist policies, land appropriation, and suppression of Indigenous sensibilities, along with hopes for resistance, resilience, and reconciliation.

Sites of specific challenge include:

  • Horizontal Violence (Lateral Violence) – expressions of contempt or rage that are directed from one member of a marginalized group to another member – that is, a community’s internalization of cycles of abuse that were originally begun with colonization, enslavement, or comparable oppressions and abuses
  • Intergenerational Trauma – the lingering effects of the physiological and psychological traumas experienced by one generation on the next generation
  • Transgenerational Trauma – the extended impacts of Intergenerational Trauma, when offspring who were not directly exposed to original traumas pass physiological and psychological effects to their children
Specific foci within Decolonizing Education include:
  • Afrocentric Education – an educational approach designed for persons of African descent in the Americas. Afrocentric Education involves both distinct pedagogies and distinct curricula that are designed to address issues of disempowerment that are rooted in lost or stolen culture and affronts inflicted upon ancestors. A particular focus of Afrocentric Education is Internalized Oppression (see Social Identity Theory). Associated notions include:
    • Double-Consciousness (William Du Bois) – a reference to the putative need of African Americans (and other visible minorities) to maintain two modes of thinking/being in a white-dominated society
  • Decolonizing the Curriculum – a collaborative-but-critical revisioning of curriculum, aiming to highlight problematical emphases while creating spaces and developing resources that honor and sincerely engage different knowledge systems while bringing them into productive conversation with one another. Most often, the “different knowledge systems” under consideration are rooted in local Indigenous culture(s) and prevailing WEIRD Epistemologies (see Epistemology). Associated notions include:
    • Third Space (Third Space of Enunciation; The In-Between) (Homi Bhabha, 2000s) – a space in which the dominance of a post-colonial culture is deliberately subverted, typically through subtle political and/or aesthetic acts that introduce hybrid cultural forms. Third Space is about (re)asserting agency in self- and cultural identifications. Associated constructs include:
      • Ambivalence (Homi Bhabha, 1990s) – a reference to the multifaceted relationship between the colonized subject and the colonizer, characterized by both attraction/embrace and repulsion/opposition
      • Hybridity (Homi Bhabha, 1990s) – a construct borrowed from biology, where it refers to offspring of different varieties of species, that is applied to cultural identities within colonizer/colonized contexts. Hybridity is used to signal the untenability of a “pure” cultural identity while encouraging embrace of the affordances of cultural differences.
      • Mimicry (Homi Bhabha, 1990s) – in the context of discussions of Hybridity, a sort of copying by the colonized subject of the habits or fashions of the colonizer that usually involves an exaggeration of manners, ideas, or some other aspect
    • Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk) (Mi'kmaq Elder Albert Marshall, 2000s) – a reference to a benefit of intimate familiarity with two cultures – that is, of being able to view situations through both the lens of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing and the lens of western knowledges and ways of knowing
  • Indigenization (Indigenizing the Academy; Indigenizing the Curriculum) (2000s) – a process of institutional decolonization – that is, a movement to transform formal education by integrating Indigenous cultures, philosophies, and knowledges. At present, Indigenization is operating almost entirely at the post-secondary level. Themes include reconciliation, restoration, and resurgence, and approaches include Indigenous leadership, focused hirings, strategic research support, mandated governance roles, and designs (architectural and landscape) that honor and reflect Indigenous traditions.
  • Land-Based Education/Learning/Pedagogy (Indigenous Land-Based Education/Learning; Land-Based Treatment/Healing) – variously defined, but most often understood as a mode of engagement that weaves through food-gathering, ceremony, traditional medicine, language-learning, and other cultural activities that are oriented to/by/on the land and that support physical-mental-spiritual intimacy with the land. Associated constructs include:
    • Indigegogy (Stan Wilson, 2000s) – a form of Land-Based Pedagogy that foregrounds a range of traditional Indigenous teachings, ceremonies, and practices
  • Neurodecolonization (Michael Yellow Bird, 2020s) – a combination of sacred and secular Mindfulness practices aimed at interrupting and reformatting colonialist patterns of thought and behavior that are literally structured into brains

Important constructs associated with Decolonizing Education include:

  • Grammar of Animacy (Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2010s) – “Animacy” is derived from the Latin anima “breath, life.” In linguistics, it is used to indicate how alive a referent is to the speaker – which can be a difficult concept for westerners. English, for example, might be said to have a “grammar of objectification.” In its noun-based (i.e., thing-based) sentences, subjects (doers) are split from objects (things that are done to). Within a Grammar of Animacy, expressions aren’t structured around objectifications and separations; they’re more dynamic, fluid, intermingled, co-entangled. Languages with a Grammar of Animacy are often described as tonal, rhythmic, and embodying a deeper harmony with the animate, more-than-human world.
  • Indigenous Epistemologies (Aboriginal Epistemologies) – In academic circles, the word Epistemology typically signals explicit interest in the philosophy of knowledge. In contrast, the phrase Indigenous Epistemologies refers more to ways of being – that is, to flag how matters of knowing for many cultures are vibrantly knitted into the stories, histories, ceremonies, traditions, places, and other aspects of existence. Most often, Indigenous Epistemologies are strongly resonant with Coherence Discourses, but there are exceptions. On this site, out of respect to authors and peoples, we do not attempt to impose western labels or to categorize onto Indigenous ways of being – beyond statements already made (i.e., noting that western conceptions of Epistemology are inadequate for and inappropriate to such purposes). Associated discourses include:
    • Indigenous Theory – rooted in Indigenous Epistemologies, any worldview, sensibilities, of perspective that is informed by and consistent with the cultures and traditions of an Indigenous people. Common (but not universal) attributes include holist attitudes, often manifest in explicit attendance to spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects of being spanning past, present, and future.
    • Critical Indigenous Theory – a blend of Critical Theory (under Critical Pedagogy) and Indigenous Theory, often (but not exclusively) sharing foci with Anticolonialism, Decolonization, and Postcolonialism (see above).
  • Orality (Water Ong, 1980s) – the structures of consciousness – that is, the Modes of Reasoning, the manners of expression, and the Ways of Knowing (see Epistemology) – that are associated with being raised in a culture that makes little or no use of the technology of writing. Subdiscourses include:
    • Oral Culture (Oral Lore; Oral Tradition) – developing, maintaining, and orally communicating knowledge, wisdom, art, memories, and other cultural learnings across generations
    • Primary Orality (Walter Ong, 1980s) – the modes of thinking–being–doing that are associated with cultures that are untouched by writing
    • Secondary Orality (Walter Ong, 1980s) – the modes of verbal thought and oral expression that are influenced by writing and print media
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge – a system of Indigenous knowledge traditions and practices that are dependent on “place.” Traditional Ecological Knowledge is concerned with the relationship of living beings and the environment.


Decolonizing Education is perhaps the best developed movement and strongest voice against the hegemony of WEIRD Epistemologies (see Epistemology) within education. It both informs and is spurred by reconciliation efforts around the world, most prominently in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. As well, subdiscourses of Decolonizing Education often press considerations into the spaces of the ecological, the more-than-human, and the spiritual –in ways that are foreign not only to mainstream educational discourses, but to most Activist Discourses as well.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Status as a Theory of Learning

While Decolonizing Education cannot be properly described as a perspective on learning, it is oriented by the realization that the WEIRD Epistemologies (see Epistemology) that undergird most formal educational systems are culturally narrow and self-serving. As such, a core element of Decolonizing Education involves the reclaiming of other cultural ways of knowing and enactments of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Decolonizing Education is principally focused on the structures, content, and methods associated with modern education. In those regards, its associated discourses might be construed as theories of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

A prominent thread of discussion within Decolonizing Education is the hegemonic nature of western science – which, importantly, is not a questioning of the robustness or utility of its conclusions, but a criticism of the Eurocentric habit of measuring (and dismissing) other knowledge systems and ways of knowing against its standards. With that in mind, it would be inappropriate and reductionist to classify Decolonizing Education in terms of scientific theories. However, Decolonizing Education comprises academically rigorous and culturally open discourses.


  • Afrocentric Education
  • Ambivalence
  • Anticolonialism
  • Colonial Discourse Theory
  • Critical Indigenous Theory
  • Decolonization ­(Decoloniality; Decolonial Theory)
  • Decolonizing the Curriculum
  • Double Consciousness
  • Grammar of Animacy
  • Horizontal Violence (Lateral Violence)
  • Hybridity
  • Indigegogy
  • Indigenous Epistemologies (Aboriginal Epistemologies)
  • Indigenous Theory
  • Indigenization (Indigenizing the Academy; Indigenizing the Curriculum)
  • Intergenerational Trauma
  • Land-Based Education/Learning/Pedagogy (Indigenous Land-Based Education/Learning; Land-Based Treatment/Healing)
  • Mimicry
  • Neurodecolonization
  • Oral Culture (Oral Lore; Oral Tradition)
  • Orality
  • Postcolonialism
  • Primary Orality
  • Secondary Orality
  • Settler Colonial Education
  • Third Space  (Third Space of Enunciation; The In-Between)
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge
  • Transgenerational Trauma
  • Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Decolonizing Education” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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